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by Sam Sorbo, Keynote Speaker, 34th Annual CHEA Convention
On a plane recently, an elderly gentleman named John and I engaged in a conversation on home education. As it turns out, his wife teaches in a Waldorf-type school that, according to him, encourages the child to be “present in the world” by eighth grade. “Truly in the world.”
“What does that mean?” I asked, intrigued, but skeptical.
“Well, the children are engaged each day not just with academic material, but with singing, building things, movement classes . . .” He continued, “I know, it sounds kind of hippie-ish, like the sixties, but it’s very effective, I think.”
He smiled, ready to answer. “Oh! Well, the teacher follows the class from year to year, so that the students have consistency in who is educating them.”
I nodded, understanding. This is also a distinct advantage homeschoolers have, though it is often overlooked, and sometimes even criticized. Like John’s wife’s school, home education is notable in part due to the consistency of the parent-teacher. This indicates a long-term, deepening, even loving, relationship. The most ineffective elements of our public school system stem from the assembly-line atmosphere of education, the inconsistency in teachers, and the systemic obstacles to any meaningful, caring bond between the children and their instructor. Insurance issues now restrict even Christian preschools from allowing any physical contact between teachers and students–no hugging!
Are children just machines that need to be programmed, or are they God’s creations, irrepressibly craving unhurried love, affectionate attention, and personal involvement?
When my oldest boy was in second grade, he had two co-teachers in a shared classroom. By February, he had submitted five book reports and none had ever been returned to me. One school day ended with me tidying up in the room with Mrs. Kirklin, whom I genuinely liked. I spontaneously asked, “How are Braeden’s book reports?”
She immediately responded, “Oh, not very good. Not good at all, actually.”
I was shocked. I’d spent time in the classroom at least once a week, and she’d never mentioned Breaden’s work was under par. Neither had his other teacher. They’d left us no clues. Every excuse I invented for this egregious oversight made it worse.
In a large classroom, each child cannot receive the amount of attention he truly requires from a single overworked schoolteacher.
Even legislatures are taking up the cause to promote parental engagement in their child’s education, going so far as “grading the parents,” because they see the predictable correlation between intimate, personal contact and children’s learning success. While this legislative admission makes the case for home education, it points to a broader and more profound observation.
Teach from love, with love, and for love. That personal investment makes the difference between the child knowing his place in the world, or just knowing he is in the world.
Later in our conversation, John taught me about the Railsback stretch that skews the tuning of a piano for the human ear. He did not begin by telling me to sit down and be quiet, or pay attention and stop fidgeting. He started by gently acknowledging my love of math, saying, “I have a mathematical conundrum for you,” which engaged me immediately. I listened intently, understanding intrinsically that he was imparting something for my benefit, out of love.
Love is the catalyst that permits home education to outpace our public school option. Love is what allows the teacher-parent to say, “I know you don’t like math, but this is a really interesting thing that you can use with your gymnastics.”
Play for Awhile
Love encourages the homeschooling parent to offer, “You know what? You’ve done enough work today. I know you didn’t finish, but tomorrow is another day. I’m proud of you, so go outside and play for a while, now.” The loving tenderness convinces the child that Mom is on his side while still maintaining a standard. It is also what inspires the child to attain that high standard.
Love is the most important ingredient in education, an undeclared education accomplice, and public school teachers are severely impeded in cultivating and harvesting its amazing effects, but it can also be a stumbling block for homeschoolers. As homeschool parents, it is difficult to refrain from competing with educational institutions, but we must keep our eyes on the prize. The reason to learn is to learn to reason, not to pass someone else’s test. After all, whose name do we want on our children’s hearts?
Recognize that we want our children to excel, to be prodigies, to perform in a way that engenders pride. Though this is natural, it sometimes can lead us to focus on quantifiable outcome and teaching to the test, rather than on the growth of the conscience and the quality of character. It is vital to keep the love in focus as we teach our children, not least because it is what God does as he teaches us.
God uses adversity in our lives. James 1:2 (NIV) says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds . . . ,” for we are to learn from adversity. Later, looking back, we often reflect that we are better for having gone through the hardship, because we learned.
Learning is hard for all of us, but God doesn’t yell, “Finish up!” He patiently stands by, softly and lovingly cajoling and urging us to delve deeper, sometimes allowing us to play outside for a while before finishing our work at the kitchen table of life. God teaches from love, and in this, as in all things, we must model ourselves after Him.
Love is the special sauce.